The Cooperative Growth Ecosystem refers to a systemic understanding of what helps worker cooperatives thrive and reach a scale that has impact. The ecosystem includes actors – individuals, organizations and institutions – and elements that interact to support or inhibit scaled growth of worker cooperatives. Our framework is inspired and informed by five distinct entrepreneurial ecosystem frameworks from diverse entities: the Babson Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Project, the World Economic Forum, Monitor Group, PolicyLink, and Social Enterprise Greenhouse. Four high-level elements were common to all: financial capital, human capital, business supports, and attitudes and culture. In addition, each had elements related to policy, markets, and education. We include all of these and add elements that we see as critical to the growth and success of worker cooperatives that provide opportunities for low- to moderate-income workers.
The Cooperative Growth Ecosystem has eleven elements in all, in three major categories. Essential Elements are the building blocks for robust growth, and scale cannot be achieved without them. Important Elements support growth and can be key drivers or supports for scale initiatives. Environmental Elements legitimize and create demand for worker cooperatives, but do not in themselves support growth or scale.
It is important to note that we do not see these parts of the ecosystem evolving in a necessarily linear or sequential fashion; we believe the process is iterative and dynamic. In fact, many ecosystems may begin with a concentration of Environmental Elements or a few Important Elements, and as they develop, they create more Essential Elements.